April 30, 2014

The Polluted Fountain Of Youth

Anyone who's ever had a parent knows one thing for sure: Old people think young people are idiots.

If you're young, your parents hate your music, hate your haircut, hate your friends, hate your language, hate your clothing... it's an inviolable rule of nature.

This is nothing new. It's been going on for generations. Ever since youth culture emerged about 100 years ago, every generation of parents has thought that every generation of kids were a bunch of bozos.

The only people who don't seem to know this are us geniuses in the advertising industry. According to us, older people don't just admire young people, they long to be like them.

It's no coincidence that people in the ad industry tend to be young. All this youth worship is really just narcissism masquerading as business strategy.

What our agency masterminds don't seem to understand is that there is a difference between wanting to be youthful, and wanting to be like young people.

People of a certain age certainly want to be youthful. But their idea of being youthful is  being like they were 15 years ago. Not being like young people are now.

I think Michelle Obama wants to be youthful, but I doubt she wants to be like the doofuses in Taco Bell ads.

Now that people over 50 are dominating our economy, it's about time agencies (and marketers) learned to draw a distinction. There's a difference between wanting to be youthful and wanting to be like young people.

Ask your parents.

April 28, 2014

Lots Of Screwing But No Marriage

Well, the big news this weekend was that the honeymoon between Omnicom and Publicis seems to be in trouble before we even get to the foreplay.

According to The Wall Street Journal,
"...battles over position and power are threatening to upend the slated $35 billion "merger of equals" between advertising firms Omnicom Group Inc. and Publicis Groupe SA."
Battles over position and power? In an ad agency? You mean it's not "all about the work?" Well fuck me blind.

Back in July, almost a year ago, the two blundering behemoths decided it would be a good idea to get married. The rationale? Some idiotic nonsense about "big data." The real reason? Corporate ego. These guys don't like the idea that Sir Martin has a bigger one.

As far as I'm concerned, the whole thing is a giant "so what?" The ad industry has already surrendered everything to fearsomely dull men in grey suits. Who gives a shit whether a couple of these cuties decide to snuggle up together?

It really doesn't matter much if you have one elephant in your living room or two. It's still gonna smell.

According to the Journal, one of the biggest battles is about who's going to keep track of the money.
"The companies are also at loggerheads over who will fill senior jobs, particularly the position of finance chief. Omnicom wants its chief financial officer, Randall Weisenburger, in the slot whereas Publicis wants its CFO, Jean-Michel Etienne, to get the job..."
(NOTE TO OMNI-PUBE: If you need someone to watch your money, pick a Weisenburger over an Etienne every time.)

This whole monstrosity was billed as a "merger of equals."

Anyone who has ever done a deal knows that there ain't no such thing. Someone's buying and someone's selling. It's the law. And all the baloney and corporate double-talk doesn't change that.

The PR jive coming out of the agencies is that the problems are not about who's in charge, but about "legal and tax issues in Europe." Can you imagine  how brilliant these clowns will be with all their "big data" if nine months into this deal they still can't figure out what the legal issues are?

Unable to keep his own mouth shut, Sir Martin Of The Big One chimed in on the contradictory statements coming out of both camps:
"You have one talking Chinese and the other Japanese," Mr. Sorrell said.
I'm afraid Sir Martin is wrong. They're both talking the same language. The only language they know -- bullshit.

April 24, 2014

Steve Jobs Hated "Branding"

Here at The Ad Contrarian Worldwide Headquarters, we have always taken a skeptical view of brand babble.

While we appreciate the value that certain types of brand equity confer, we are appalled by the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of how brands are built, and the dreadful lexicon of "branding."

Our views on the topic are summed up in a few little axioms we trot out whenever the subject surfaces:
"We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product."

"A strong brand is a byproduct. It comes from doing other things right. Make sure your product is excellent. Make sure you're taking good care of your customers. Make sure your ads differentiate you. That's what builds brands."
Now, when you're a dumb-ass blogger, it's nice to have pithy little statements like that. But it's a lot nicer when you find that your views are shared by someone with actual, functioning brains.

That's why an article I came across recently was particularly gratifying.

The article, at Business Insider, was called "The Two Most 'Dreaded, Hated' Words At Steve Jobs' Apple." 

And what were these two words? According to Allison Johnson, VP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple from 2005 to 2011...
"...the two most 'dreaded, hated' words at Apple under Steve Jobs were "branding" and "marketing."
The article goes on to quote Johnson...
"...we understood deeply what was important about the product, what the team’s motivations were in the product, what they hoped that product would achieve, what role they wanted it to have in people’s lives
...The most important thing was people's relationship to the product. So any time we said 'brand' it was a dirty word."
Back in 2009 I wrote a post that included the following
Apple’s advertising is always about product benefits and differentiation. It is never idiotic “branding”... No lifestyle bullshit... And always done beautifully.
Just goes to show, sometimes even bloggers can be right.

April 23, 2014

An Expensive Lesson In Web Strategy

Here at The Ad Contrarian World Headquarters we are well-known for believing that it is much more fun to identify problems than to offer solutions.

As a matter of fact, offering solutions is how we make money and the idea of giving them away free on a blog is just plain anathema to us.

Nonetheless, there are moments when we feel unaccountably generous and give million dollar advice away for nothing. Today is such a day.

The case in point is our strategy for online advertising. (I don't have the patience to explain it again, so click the link.)

As regular readers know, we have long advocated the idea that the web is good for fulfilling demand, but not for creating demand.

In short, the web is a lousy version of television, but a terrific version of the Yellow Pages.

Our advice is to forget most of the baloney about social media, content, banners and whatever else is flavor of the week, and advertise on the web where people go who are actively looking for something.

Of course, this advice has been widely ignored by the demented doofuses in the marketing and advertising industry who want you to believe that people have nothing better to do than have conversations about your brand on line. (And, oh yeah, maybe there's a buck or two in it for them if you buy this bullshit.)

Well, someone seems to have learned an expensive lesson.

According to Bloomberg, Priceline's ceo Darren Huston, says that Facebook and Twitter have failed to deliver results. I'm shocked...shocked I tell you.

Priceline's online spending last year was an astounding $1.8 billion. But according to Huston...
“For Facebook and Twitter, we have endless amounts of money. But we haven’t found anything there....But Google has been a great thing.”
In fact, Priceline's cost of marketing increased 41% last year while their business grew 29%. It looks like it's back to Google for them.

People who understand the "creating demand vs fulfilling demand" strategy would know in about 2 seconds that Facebook and Twitter would not be as effective for Priceline as Google.

Using the web for creating demand is dumb. Using it for fulfilling demand is smart. You owe me a million dollars.

April 21, 2014

The Lifetime Value Of Stupidity

One of my all-time favorite dumb-guy marketing ideas is "lifetime value."

It is the fantasy that if you get a customer at a young age she'll stick with you for life. This nonsense is particularly popular in the automotive industry, where I misspent a lot of my agency career.

My conversations about lifetime value usually went something like this:
BOB: Why are we spending so much of our advertising budget against 18-34 year-olds when they have no money and no interest in buying cars?

STUPID-ASS MARKETING GUY: Because we have to think about the future. We need young people in our brand. If we get them now, we'll have them for a long time.
BOB: But doesn't it make more sense to try to sell our car to people who are actually interested in buying a car now than to people who might buy a car in fifteen years?

Old people are dying out, and we need to get youth into our brand or we'll die, too.
BOB: (Foolishly trying to insert logic into the conversation) First of all, old people aren't dying out. Adults over fifty are growing at almost three times the rate of adults under 50. It's young people who are evaporating, not old ones. But more important, 88% of cars are sold to people over 35. The math just doesn't work.

STUPID-ASS MARKETING GUY: (Snickering on the inside) Why don't you just stick to writing the ads and leave the math to me?

BOB: Because you're a fucking moron (no, I didn't really say that...I'd say something like)... "let me show you the numbers..."

Only 12% of cars are sold to people between the ages of 18 and 34.  Let's say we are the most brilliant marketers in history and we can get a 50 share among these people. And then let's say that we make the most irresistible car in history and fifteen years from now 50% of these people will still buy our brand. And let's say that these people miraculously become the most eager new car buyers in history and they buy a new car every 2 years. That means fifteen years from now we will have 1.5% share of market from them.

In the meantime, we will have ignored 88% of the fucking people who actually bought a fucking car every fucking year for fifteen fucking years. Does this sound like good fucking business strategy to you, you fucking moron...(once again, the "fucking" part was often more a thought than an actual verbalization. Often, but not always.)

STUPID-ASS MARKETING GUY: (Snickering on the inside, the outside, the right side, and the left side) Why don't you just stick to writing the ads and leave the marketing decisions to me?
That, my friends, is the value of stupidity. And it lasts a lifetime.

April 17, 2014

The Power Of Sloppy

Have you ever wondered how McDonald's and Coca-Cola and Nike and Toyota and Apple and all the other enormous worldwide brands became successful?

For one thing, they were sloppy. They had to be.

They didn't have big data or precision targeting. They couldn't punch a key and immediately identify left-handed Lutheran dry cleaners who rode recumbent bicycles.

So they had to use mass media and talk to everyone. Not only did they not suffer for it, they prospered from it.

Mass market advertising is the most powerful media tool ever invented for the building of brands. In fact, despite the blather of contemporary marketing pundits, it remains so today.

If you walk through your local supermarket, you'll find that these mass advertised brands are the brands you'll find on the shelves. No "Facebook" brands. No "Twitter" brands. No "banner" brands.

Is there a lesson here? There is an enormous lesson staring us right in the face.

It is this: precision targeting may be an effective strategy for direct marketers and niche brands, but if you want to build or grow a big brand, mass advertising is by far your best media strategy.

Of course, some degree of targeting is essential. You don't want to try to sell golf balls to tennis players or run beer spots on "Oprah."

But there is a point you reach very quickly at which slicing and dicing the population into finer and finer fractions becomes counter-productive. Your assumptions become less accurate, your reach becomes less fruitful, and your focus becomes too parochial.

When you target too explicitly, you lose the value of unintended consequences. You lose the power of the unknown. Who would have guessed that 88% of "youth cars" would be sold to people over 35?

The simple fact is that marketers are not as good at predicting the ultimate make-up of their customer mix as they think they are. And the best way to mitigate against this is to be a little sloppy and tell your story to as many people as you can.

If you want to be a niche brand, do niche advertising. If you want to grow a big brand, you need to do mass market advertising.

You need to harness the power of sloppy.

April 15, 2014

The Sadness Of Sameness

Here's what a once-great agency looks like when it turns its message over to jargon-monkeys.

This agency used to awe us with wonderful ideas. Now it can only bore us with the same dreadful drivel we've heard a thousand times before.

It's a very sad thing.

April 14, 2014

Hard Times For The Cult Of Social Media?

It could be that the social media zombies have had their day.

Frankly, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.

Now, before the hate mail comes rolling in, let me state the obvious. There are some very capable, hard-working and talented people in the social media world.

But there is also a roiling cesspool of arrogant, insufferable charlatans who parlayed a few buzzwords into a career and with whom we have had to put up for the past five years. Seeing them crash and burn would not irk me one darn bit.

Why do I think they've had their day? A few reasons:

First is that hideous, moronic, infantile song video from Social Media World that has become an embarrassment to the marketing industry. If you've never experienced the insularity of cults, this will be a good primer.

There is very little else that is as effective at taking the piss out of a cult than mockery. Ironically, in this case, it is self-induced mockery.

Any sensible person who looks at this thing can only believe that these people are utterly and completely demented. No one in his/her right mind would hire these people to sweep the floor, no less develop "business strategies."

Second, is a personal experience I had recently at my talk in London.

Frankly, I was apprehensive before the talk. I knew I was going to say a lot of things that would not sit well with the digital crowd. When I saw a largely young audience file into the theater, I thought for sure I would be facing a somewhat hostile audience.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at both the reaction of the audience and the follow-up reaction to the talk when it was posted on YouTube. It seems that at least some people are ready to hear a different point of view.

Finally, there are the facts. It seems that every few weeks a new study pops up showing that social media's impact on product sales is somewhere between small and not-at-all.

Of course, the social media crowd (having learned failure management from the traditional advertising crowd) will throw a false goal at us and say the purpose is not sales, but branding (whatever the fuck that means.)

I doubt the "branding" bluff will work. I'm sure some CMOs with "sluggish cognitive tempo" will buy this bullshit, but most are under pressure these days to perform. That means sales, not brand babble.

I have a feeling the bloom is coming off the social media rose. From here on, it's going to take more than cult culture.

April 08, 2014

My Talk At "Advertising Week Europe"

Last week I was honored to be asked by ITV to deliver their “Spotlight Lecture” at Advertising Week Europe, which was held in London.

It was a week-long conclave of ad, marketing and media people.

My talk was called “The Golden Age Of Bullshit” and was about the difference between the predictions of experts and the reality of the past 10 years.

The fellow introducing and interviewing me on stage is Mark Austin who is chief newscaster for ITV.

If you’re interested (or having trouble sleeping) you can find my talk here.

By the way, love this tweet...

April 06, 2014

Talking Babies And Babbling Baboons

I am not a fan of either the talking animal or the talking baby genre. They've been done a million times and rarely have they been anything but awful.

However, every now and then someone does it well. They take a clich├ęd idea and make it into something good.

One of the cases in which talking babies were done well was E-Trade. Before I go too far, they weren't all gems. But some of the writing was excellent and very entertaining. I don't know who the writer(s?) were, but at some point Grey had some excellent talent on this business.

But, as always, good advertising can't withstand the relentless onslaught of baboons in the marketing suite.

A couple of years ago I wrote the following...
Marketing people just refuse to leave shit alone. Somewhere they got the idea that everything they see needs to be changed and everything they change is an improvement...
Whenever I read in the trades that a successful advertiser has hired a new CMO, I know a festival of laughter is on the way. They (the new CMOs) always say the same thing: 
"X Corp has been very successful. I am not here to change that. My focus is just on making sure that we ______."
Amazingly, making sure that they ________ always seems to require that they change everything.
Recently E-Trade got a new CMO, which, of course, meant a new agency which, of course, means a new campaign. And what an inexcusable piece of excrement it is.

Of course, this horrible, disgraceful, odious (am I making myself clear?) campaign is being justified with the usual steaming pile of hogwash about "consumers" and "research" and "control" and "spaces."

Just reading this crap is so depressing. It has to make anyone with a sense of what advertising should and could be disgusted that advertising decisions are in the hands of such philistines.

When are these people going to learn that a distinctive campaign idea is worth ten-thousand of their vacuous strategy documents and hinky research reports?

The new CMO, in the time-honored tradition of insolent duplicity, gives the old campaign the obligatory counterfeit high praise while sticking an ice pick in the heart of something good in support of something unspeakably horrible.

I hate to do this to you on a Monday morning, but take a look at this monstrosity and try not to lose your breakfast.

And if the spot isn't bad enough, these flat tires have sullied the name of my company  (Type A) for their loathsome new campaign, "Type E."

There are so many things I want to punish these people for.

April 02, 2014

The Power Of Precision Guessing

We know that consumer behavior is often irrational. That's why there are large market share differences among products that are essentially the same.

We also know that consumers tend to be pragmatic and don't like to throw their money around on crap. That's why so many new products fail.

So how do we reconcile these two seeming contradictions? How can consumers be both strangely emotional yet essentially pragmatic?

We can't explain it. That's what makes advertising so interesting.

It's like physics. There are two equally reliable, yet contradictory ways to explain the physical behavior of matter.

General relativity describes the world one way. Quantum physics describes it another. They are completely different, and often contradictory theories. And yet each is equally capable of explaining and predicting the behavior of matter -- general relativity on a large scale and quantum physics on a small scale.

We face a similar (and far less important) enigma in advertising. If you ask an advertising expert "what makes a great campaign" he/she will provide you with a list of adjectives --
beautiful, persuasive, funny, entertaining, convincing... but the truth is, nobody really knows what makes a great ad campaign.

I can show you a hundred campaigns that were all of those things and failed, and you can show me a hundred that were none of them and succeeded.

The thing that drives ad people crazy, and makes advertising such a fascinating endeavor, is that there is no algorithm for great advertising. No one has been able to define the proper proportions of the emotional and the practical, the nonlinear and the utilitarian, the entertaining and the convincing.

And that leads us to the point of this piece. The present obsession with media delivery systems may help our media people locate a certain type of person more easily, but is never going to provide the spark of brilliance on how to motivate this person.

Understanding motivation still comes from the brains of talented people who somehow know what the right combination of ingredients is to motivate a certain type of person in a certain type of category.

They don't know how they know it, and sometimes they don't even know that they know it. But they do.

That's why there are a few people who consistently create wonderful, successful advertising and others who create consistently mediocre advertising.

It's a gift that some creative people have for precision guessing. That's all it is, but it is the amazing gift that separates real advertising talent from the rest of us.

Big thanks to everyone at ITV who invited me to speak at AdvertisingWeek Europe in London yesterday. Also big thanks to everyone who attended. For those interested in viewing the talk, I am told it will be up on the AdvertisingWeek Europe website within a few days. I'll keep you posted.